5 DucksIntroduction

The Senate’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA – S.2848) would reduce the deficit by $6 million in its first decade, the Congressional Budget Office has said. This score makes it more likely that the bill may get floor time, although the very limited number of Congressional sessions between now and the election makes passage of the bill increasingly unlikely.

Discussion

WRDA is the act by which Congress authorizes new water resources projects, including new ports, locks and levee projects while also advancing improvements to the country’s municipal water programs. Once upon a time, WRDA was passed about every two years, but starting in the late 80’s the time between acts started slipping, culminating in acts in 2000, 2007, and 2014. The Republican leadership, in particular Congressman Schuster in the House, has been pushing to pass a bill this year, returning Congress to its every other year schedule. Supporting this effort is a series of Chief’s Reports that have been finalized, a necessary precursor to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advancing flood risk reduction and ecosystem restoration projects.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores bills based on their costs to the nation. The lower the score, the less costs, and the more likely that the act will receive floor time in light of the Majority’s PayGo (“pay as you go”) philosophy. The CBO has concluded that the Senate bill would cost $10.6 billion overall in its first decade. But because those are just authorizations, Congress would still need to appropriate funds.

The estimated cost of the five largest projects authorized by S. 2848 totals $6.9 billion; the federal share would total about $3.5 billion. Those projects are:

  • The Central Everglades Planning Project to restore the Everglades in central and southern Florida ($1 billion);
  • The American River Watershed Common Features project to reduce the risk of floods along the American and Sacramento Rivers near Sacramento, California ($880 million);
  • The West Sacramento project to reduce the risk of floods in the City of West Sacramento, California ($780 million);
  • The West Shore Lake Pontchartrain project to reduce the risk of hurricane and storm damages in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James Parishes in Louisiana ($480 million); and
  • The Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration project to restore ecosystems along the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles County, California ($380 million).

Assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, CBO estimates that about $1.1 billion of those costs would be incurred over the 2017-2026 period. Based on information from the Corps, CBO estimates that construction costs for the other 22 projects and 5 modifications authorized by the bill would total about $1.4 billion over the next 10 years.

On the direct spending side, the bill would decrease direct spending by $59 million in the first decade, but reduce revenues by $53 million – leaving taxpayers with a net benefit of $6 million. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe said the CBO score paves the way for the bill to go to the floor.

“As we’ve done with the FAST Act and TSCA reform, the Senate has an opportunity to now take up WRDA and show that we are working together for the good of the American people and fulfilling what they sent us here to do. As I’ve discussed with Leader [Mitch] McConnell, I am confident that we can quickly move this bill through the Senate in the remaining weeks of this work period,” Inhofe said in a statement.

So, What Now?

As with most Federal legislation, bills seem to be passed when we reach a critical mass of support and the key obstacles are overcome. In this case, a healthy score helps overcome the PayGo limitation. But Congress already made it very unlikely that this bill can pass this year when it elected to spend most of the next two months in Congressional districts campaigning. From my perspective, the bill has enough going for it that it still could pass this year, but with all of the hurdles, it seems a lame duck session of Congress (after the election but before the new Congress starts) will be most likely.